Friday, February 12, 2010

The Best Chocolate of My Life

I had the best chocolate of my life in Paris two weeks ago. Really, I did. It almost didn't happen – it was a favor for an acquaintance that I'd never met, a chocolatier in Maryland who just had to have some chocolates from Patrick Roger to get new ideas. As my only day in Paris, at first I thought there's no way I'm going to go out of my way to do a favor for someone I've never met, but for whatever reason I did and was able to convince the four friends I was with to put up with it. It was a rainy, gloomy day in Paris and we trudged on and on, desperate to get to our destination. Our pants were wet and soggy at the bottoms and our feet hurt, my friends kept shooting comments at me that this chocolate had better be made of clouds from heaven. And finally, somehow, we made it, and we were immediately silenced and forgot our qualms: we were standing in front of chocolate artistry unlike any other we'd seen before.

In the windows of the shop is what immediately captivates us: there are chocolate butts in front of us. It resembles the lawn ornaments you see sometimes of a pudgy woman bent over, bloomers hanging out, except that it's made of chocolate. And it's much more detailed than those lawn ornaments; it's obvious that Patrick Roger has an eye for detail that is uncanny. Inside, chic brownish black counters curve around the walls, with a curved center counter as well. Lined along all the walls are various products: chocolates and candies, cocoa powders, caramels, even glittery brightly colored marzipan animals, all in beautiful bright teal packaging. Hanging from the ceiling are huge modern light fixtures: a few feet across, they vaguely resemble white Christmas ornaments but are wiry instead of solid.

Once we make it inside we're able to explore all that it has to offer: individually wrapped bars of chocolate in flavors traditional and eclectic alike. Boxes of assorted chocolates and caramels line the counters neatly, on one wall they even sell the chocolate that they use to make them in different cocoa percentages. The caramels are encased in bright green glossy half-domes. On another wall, there are small, beautifully made marzipan animals, vividly colored ducks and elephants, coated in glitter. An almond makes up the beak for the ducks – attention to detail is pronounced. We made our way around the store, snapping photos constantly, the two girls that work there looking at us as though we were insane. Finally I settle on a purchase: the praline chocolate bar. Only a couple inches long, it's three Euros – the most expensive chocolate I've ever had. Once outside, we stand in a little circle to share our tasting. The smooth praline filling is enrobed with dark chocolate, a common flavor combination. A friend just had a bite of her lemon basil chocolate, and when I glance over I see her staring at it, in complete awe, at a loss for words. It's as though the chocolate has her hypnotized. Eventually I'm able to have a piece of it myself and can understand what she's going through.

This was perfection in the form of chocolate – and I don't even believe in perfection. It was nirvana. It was a deep, moving, religious experience. The flavors were in perfect balance: perfect amount of chocolate, perfect amount of lemon, perfect amount of basil. I wasn't standing on the street in Paris on a cold rainy day anymore – I was transported to a warm grassy field, sun shining, nothing but the field surrounding me. I had reached enlightenment. There was no strange or metallic aftertaste, no extract had been used, only pure natural flavor: essence of lemon and basil with chocolate. And it's not even a flavor combination I'd expect to enjoy – herbs and chocolate make sense together, as do lemon and basil, but I'd never imagined lemon, basil, and chocolate to be so harmonious.

Patrick Roger won “Best French Chocolatier” in 2000 for creating a life sized cocoa farmer named Harold. The chocolate farmer is based on a real farmer he met in Colombia in 1999, and was later sculpted into bronze. His other chocolate sculptures include seals, giant pencils, teddy bears, and hedgehogs – all that take an extraordinary amount of time, effort, and attention to detail. Chocolate is something I really enjoy working with, and I know I'll carry the lemon basil chocolate experience with me the rest of my pastry career. All I can do is hope I don't become too obsessed in trying to recreate it that I forget all other flavor combinations.

Photos snagged from

No comments:

Post a Comment